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  • Writer's picturePauline Greuell

On inspiration for print making and pattern designing

Updated: Mar 27

A two layered print of a pattern with grasses in bloom in a burt orange colour
Grasses in bloom

One of the questions that comes up often when people are interested in my work and want to learn my stencil printing techniques is how to go about finding inspiration for print making and pattern designing. It is a very personal thing, everyone has different sources, but some of my ways of working with and thinking about inspiration may be useful to you, therefore I thought I'd write a post about it. I’m putting links in this blog post to some of the sources of my inspiration.

Nature is an obvious source for me that I’ve written about before in a blog post when I was making a series of prints inspired by plants and weeds growing around the place where I live in the Netherlands. You can go there to read more about it.

A  view of a section of the boards in my Pinterest account
Part of my Pinterest boards

For this post I want to tell you about the work of other designers and artists that I have looked at over the past 7 years since I first started printing and the way in which they have been an inspiration to me. My first source and really the reason why I am now printing and designing at all was Pinterest. When I started using Pinterest around that time I found a huge well of the most beautiful (hand)printed fabrics that brought me back to my own love of fabrics from decades past, when we used to have beautiful fabrics in my family home. I discovered fabric designers who had a simple and clean style with a Scandinavian, Japanese or Mid Century feel that ignited my desire to make again, that I had lost since my teens and early twenties. The designers that I was looking at were for example Skinny Laminx, Lotta Jansdotter, Orla Kiehly and Bookhou. They made me want to learn to print. Their seeming simplicity is in fact much harder to achieve than it would seem, but experimenting with these styles of design had me hooked nonetheless. When I was teaching my first classes in stencil printing a few years later I looked into the Mid Century style more deeply for a class about it and found that I loved to take elements (specifically shapes and rhythms) from this style and adapt them in my own design. It is a source of inspiration that has proven inspiring and useful to many of my students as well, because for stencil printing a simplification of shapes is needed and the Mid Century style shows many examples to do this.

An abstract pattern with overlapping geometrical shapes in green
Stepping up

As I was discovering my own stencil printing technique in the first 2 years since I started printing (which involves different brush techniques for achieving different kinds of texture in my prints) I was becoming more interested in work that was (seemingly) simple and abstract, one of the sources I was looking at were the Bauhaus fabric designs that were made with simple shapes like squares, rectangles and triangles. What I took from this style was the idea of play with the simplest of shapes. At first, I often used just one colour to achieve depth and rhythm, later I also worked with these shapes in a more colorful style.

An abstract square pattern design containing that is partly filled in with colour in burnt orange and black
A sketch pattern design by Koloman Moser

When I was starting to work with repeat patterns I became more and more interested in fabric designs from the early 20th century and long before, when repeats were made by hand. I had learned to make repeat patterns digitally, but I found the handmade patterns from those times so much richer in idea and in rhythm. I found pattern sketches where the original design, the way that the pattern was constructed was still visible. I collected them on my Pinterest board ‘pattern architecture’, and it was looking at these designs that helped me work out how to make repeat patterns using stencils. It helped me to see that I could work with many different kinds of grid to shape my patterns onto.

Looking at design from these periods also helped me discover pattern designers or artists who also made patterns that proved to be very inspirational to me like C.F.A. Voysey, Enid Marx, Baron and Larcher, Raoul Dufy, Josef Frank and many others. My style and the technique that I use are far removed from the designs that they were making, but they inspire me in the way their patterns are constructed, the use of colour and line and often also their playfulness.

What I’m describing above is the way specific elements in pattern (repeat, colour, subject matter etc.) are of inspiration to me, but there is another kind of inspiration that I love to look at that is about the design process. I have several books that I look at often that tell the story of designers and their designs, their life and the way their designs were born. Some of those books are:

Bookshelf with books on pattern and fabric design
Part of my book collection on pattern and fabric design

The making of Marthe Armitage about the life, work and technique of the printer and designer Marthe Armitage that I am in awe of in so many ways.

ClothBound by Julie Paterson tells the inspiring story of a British designer who uses the landscape and nature of Australia, where she now lives, to inspire her fabric collections. It tells how her designing and printing technique evolved through the different collections which made it especially interesting to me.

Ripples a book about the Japanese firm Mina Perhonen and its designer Akira Minagawa is like a book of poetry, it does actually contain poetry, but it is most of all a view into the world of a very poetic and completely original designer, where you can see how his inspiration develops from sketches and texts to beautiful textile designs and products.

Raucous Invention by Mark Hearld is the most joyful experience that takes you into the world of this extraordinary artist and designer and tells you the process of his art and designs as well as his collaborations.

There are more books like these on my shelf, but these are among my favourites and they tell me much more than looking at each of their works individually, they tell about story, about process, about inspiration, about joy and about difficulties as well. They make me look in a new way at my own process and development and often ignite a new spark when I need it.

And a last important source of inspiration I want to talk about, that is much more difficult to describe is a kind of fleeting inspiration that is often hard to grab, but when I can, it is so worthwhile. It can happen anywhere, but it happens most often when I’m not focused and I think I see something that grabs my attention. It is mostly not really there, but it has formed in my imagination, some shape or idea and if I’m not quick it is gone. I try to take note of it when this happens. It can happen in many places, often when I’m looking at a magazine, when I’m watching a movie or walking in town, but always when my focus is on something else.

These are my most important sources of inspiration, they evolve when I get to a new chapter in my own process and I feel I want to try something else or learn something new. I try to keep track of them on Pinterest as I described above, in collections on Instagram and in sketchbooks. The most accessible to you is my Pinterest account that I still use almost every day.

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